This week the Pelican Institute for Public Policy released a report of crime data in Louisiana, adding important context to conversations about how to best address public safety and improve the justice system. The report was intended to aid policymakers in making decisions grounded in facts, data, and proven policies that increase public safety, reduce recidivism, and make the best use of scarce taxpayer dollars.

The report was produced using the Louisiana data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Report and Bureau of Justice Statistics. The data show that while crime spikes in recent years have been a serious concern and must be addressed, they were a nationwide phenomenon, not a problem unique to Louisiana. Key findings from the paper include:

  • Property crimes are decreasing in Louisiana.
  • Increases in violent crime were a nationwide event in 2020, impacting almost every state.
  • The amount of time served by violent offenders has increased between 2000-2021.
  • Violent crime increases in Louisiana were lower than in other southern states.
  • Increases in violent crime are not correlated with criminal justice reforms or decreased incarceration rates.

In related news, an annual review of Louisiana’s criminal justice policies resulted in a higher grade for the Pelican State, advancing from a D to a C. Reforms adopted during the 2022 legislative session aimed at improving public safety and removing barriers to work contributed to the state’s improved score published by Grading Justice, a project that evaluates the laws and practices that define state criminal justice systems and assigns each state a letter grade. The goal of the project is to help states improve their justice policies to safely reduce incarceration rates while protecting public safety and individual liberties.

Grading Justice examines 15 policy issues across three areas of the criminal justice system: pretrial, sentencing, and reentry. In 2022, Louisiana saw gains in the areas of pretrial reforms and reentry, while sentencing changes slightly lowered the state’s score in this area. The passage of Act 486, called the “Fair Chance Law” by supporters, dramatically improved the state’s rating for creating pathways to work for people leaving prison. Despite the sheer scale of occupational licensing in Louisiana, the state receives top marks for reducing barriers to entry for people with criminal convictions in their past.

This new law prevents the denial of an occupational license based solely or in part based on a conviction that is not related to the licensed profession. The law establishes standards for how boards can consider records and applies to almost all licensed professions in the state. It ensures that individuals are not precluded from seeking a meaningful occupation simply because of an old or unrelated conviction, providing a model for other states.

Recognizing that the ability to drive also has a big impact on whether formerly justice-involved individuals can travel to work, especially soon after their release from prison, the Louisiana Legislature passed Act 436, which prevents driver’s license suspensions in some situations where violations are unrelated to driving. The bill prevents license suspensions for individuals who are currently incarcerated or who are unable to pay, and also prevents suspension for individuals who have entered an arrangement to pay income taxes.

Louisiana’s policies regarding fines and fees also improved with the passage of a bill clarifying requirements for how justice-related debt can be reduced or amended. While the state had a provision allowing for payment plans for individuals who were unable to pay in full, changes made in 2022 require that courts hold a hearing when making these determinations, and the findings are made on the record. These changes also protect due process for individuals facing fines or fees related to criminal justice involvement.

Additionally, this year Louisiana lawmakers passed Act 225 to help curb the growing number of drug overdoses in the state. The new law improves Louisiana’s Good Samaritan Law, which provides immunity against criminal charges for individuals who are seeking medical attention for someone seeking an overdose. However, immunity only applies in certain circumstances and for certain charges. The law is intended to encourage reporting of overdoses to save more lives. Act 225 expanded the law to exclude paraphernalia possession charges from prosecution as well. The changes expand the Good Samaritan law to exclude violations of pretrial release or supervision and civil asset forfeitures.

Louisiana’s changes in Grading Justice for 2022 were not all positive. Act 671 implemented new mandatory minimum sentences that contribute to increasing incarceration and could also serve to undermine the state’s goals of reducing overdoses. The law imposes a new mandatory minimum sentence of five years for dispensing a controlled substance that results in injury to another person. Although well-intentioned, these policies contribute to longer prison sentences and are not shown to be effective at reducing overdoses. Another notable change made this year includes a streamlined process for expungement for victims of human trafficking. This ensures that people with criminal records related to their status as a victim of human trafficking can have those records expunged.

Louisiana’s overall expungement process has low marks due in part to its long waiting periods. This updated process for victims of human trafficking could serve as a basis for future expungement provisions for all Louisianans.

These policy changes elevate the state of justice reforms in Louisiana above neighboring Mississippi, which currently has a grade of D. Louisiana’s improvements in this year’s scoring of the state’s criminal justice system reflect a commitment from policymakers to continue building on evidence-based criminal justice reforms that provide better outcomes for citizens and taxpayers in the Pelican State.

The Pelican Institute further recommends that state and local leaders prioritize the following actions to reduce crime further and increase public safety:

  • Properly fund the police.
  • Focus law enforcement time and resources on preventing and solving the most serious crimes.
  • Continue to enact smart-on-crime policies that increase public safety and reduce the revolving door in and out of prison.